Summer barely arriving (technically not until June 21, by the calendar) and yet the drumbeat has commenced in earnest.
It's wide open in District 31-5A this year, with the Edinburg Bobcat basketball dynasty due for a rebuilding season after losing the bulk of the record-setting unit from 2010-11. There are a number of teams from Harlingen to Edinburg and the Tri-Cities too, who believe that this might be, has to be, the time for them to step up and join the party.
Count the Cougars in that group, perhaps at the head of the pack.
Fresh off a very solid showing in the Pharr spring league, North has started summer league play at its own gym, so far with smashing results. The Coogs blasted Weslaco East Wednesday, opening up a 33-point lead after three and cruising to win No. 2 in two outings.
Missing a couple of starters (and that is the case in the summer, teams never really have everyone there), the Coogs nonetheless showed all the attributes of a unit that is bent on making some noise in the race.
Actually, they think they can win it, and who are we to argue?
"We just have to keep working hard and stay together," said 6-foot-6 senior Kerry Williams, who will have some help down low this season in newcomer Alex Garza. "We're going to be good if we do that."
Coach Rudy Garcia guided his club to a long-awaited playoff appearance in 2010-11, and his daughter, ex Lady Coog star Brandy Garcia, is coaching the kids this summer. They had to be pleased with the progress of the 6-3 Garza, a sophomore who is long, presents well underneath, and made 10 points with seven rebounds against East. When he gets stronger and learns the aggression it will take at the varsity level, he will be a nice addition to the roster.
"He's doing good, I think he can help us a lot," said Williams, who teamed with the new face on a series of dogged rebounding and block sequences. The senior also set up the soph for two with a pretty look down low on which Williams elevated to take a lob and flipped quickly to a filling Garza for the layup.
So North will have some size down low, and out front, it's the Triple Threat of Beltrans, ready to rock and roll.
Aaron and Brian, veteran competitors off last year's squad, now have younger brother Lico to work with. Brian and Lico, as one can see from looking at them, are actually twins, and they both bring energy and aggression to the mix. Brian had a dozen against East and knocked down a buzzer-beating three from 30 feet out to end a first period that the Coogs dominated.
It was a turnabout to be sure, as North won with defense, rattling the Wildcats into turnovers and racing the other way to score. In the past, the team has had trouble at the point, and was prone to spates of erratic play at the wrong time. But with the Beltrans holding court, and senior Mando Peralta determined to have an effective closeout campaign, Garcia's group should be able to take better care of the basketball and increase last year's win total of 17.
Aaron Beltran, who noted that the fourth member of the family fun, Moises, was a hard-hitting defensive back for two seasons at the school, scored 12 Wednesday and he should be one of the better combo guards in the league this season.
"I have been bothered by this knot in my quad a little, but it will be alright," said the lanky junior, after he sat out the fourth quarter. "Once we get Brandon and Sam in here, we will have all the guys."
Note: Down the stretch Wednesday, North ran aground, allowing 15 points in a row with a rash of turnovers and missed shots. The final was a 21-point win, but it was a slightly disturbing ending.
Perhaps the letdown would have been avoided with a full complement on board. Leaper Brandon Davila, with defense and three-point shooting, and Sam Cavazos, with steady leadership, are the other pieces of the puzzle for a team that is dead set on ending the Bobcats' reign as league kings. The thing is, however, the Jags of Econ appear to have their act back together now. After a playoff trip two years ago, the Orange slumped amid some attitudinal issues and subpar play. But after a high finish in the spring league, the Jags are probably once again going to be hard to beat.
Still, everyone knows that EHS has totally mastered the loop in recent seasons, and any pretensions of a district title go directly through the Bobcats.
"I came up last year as a freshman and played against them twice," said Brian Beltran, smiling. "And when I saw what they were doing I said to myself, ‘I want some of that.'"
It is early, of course, and some people may say the summer league doesn't mean anything, what with small crowds, informal settings, and iffy attendance by kids from time to time. But the wise observer would note that every time the teams get together, they are working on an identity, making a statement, and developing habits that will undoubtedly carry over to the fall, good or bad.
With that in mind, one believes that North, provided it does what Williams says, and keeps the momentum going...well, you just have to be around to see this season, because it will be fascinating for the three city teams.